The 20 Songs of the Summer of the 21st Century, Ranked: Critic’s Picks

Jay Z and Beyonce 2003
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Jay Z and Beyonce perform onstage during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Aug. 28, 2003 in New York City.

Every year, one song crowns Billboard’s Song of the Summer chart… but over the past 20 years, which Song of the Summer has been the most season-defining?

The Song of the Summer is a concept that still captures the public’s imagination — the idea of one ubiquitous single that is intrinsically tied to the days of beach parties, cookouts and warm nights outside. Every year, Billboard launches the Song of the Summer chart to track the most dominant songs on the Hot 100 from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and every year, different sounds, voices and ideas rule pop radio (and, now, streaming services) to vie for the crown.

There’s no formula to becoming Song of the Summer — looking back at the history of the chart, there have been dance hits and slow jams, rock singles and rap anthems, all making their way to the top of the chart. Now that we’ve had 20 different Songs of the Summer in the 21st century, however, we wondered: which is the greatest Song of the Summer, the most impactful in terms of its association of that much-loved season? Out of the past Songs of the Summer, which one could we simply not do without during any given summer?

Check out our critic’s ranking of the 20 Songs of the Summer of the 2000s thus far — think of this list as less of the “best” songs, but more about that season-defining quality we all know and love. And be sure to turn your volume up to listen along with every one of them.

20. Matchbox Twenty, «Bent»
Year: 2000
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: *N SYNC, “It’s Gonna Be Me”; Aaliyah, “Try Again”

One year after Rob Thomas first stepped out as a solo artist and scored the biggest hit of his career with the enormous Santana collaboration “Smooth,” he returned to Matchbox Twenty and to the top of the Hot 100 with the pensive guitar-pop single “Bent.” The song only spent one week at the summit but eked out the Song of the Summer crown from *N SYNC’s more party-friendly “It’s Gonna Be Me.”

19. Usher, «Confessions Part II»
Year: 2004
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Juvenile feat. Soulja Slim, “Slow Motion”; Usher, “Burn”

As far as the top of the Hot 100 was concerned, 2004 was the year of Usher’s Confessions: the pop-R&B superstar’s fourth album launched four No. 1 singles, which combined for a then-record 28 weeks atop the chart that calendar year. The simmering slow jam “Confessions Part II” had the right SOTS timing, but it spent the fewest weeks at No. 1 of the four singles, and smashes like “Yeah!” and “Burn” have endured more since their chart reigns as well.

18. OMI, «Cheerleader»
Year: 2015
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”; Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”

Sandwiched in between No. 1s by Taylor Swift and The Weeknd (who dominated with his late-summer smash “Can’t Feel My Face”) was the six-week run of the delightful reggae-pop track “Cheerleader” from Jamaica’s OMI, who scored an international hit thanks to a remixed version of the track by DJ Felix Jaehn. In the half-decade since, OMI still has yet to return to the Hot 100.

17. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, «Fancy»
Year: 2014
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: MAGIC!, “Rude”; Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea, “Problem”

Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was one of the biggest breakout stars of 2014 and “Fancy,” her team-up with Charli XCX, became her signature anthem, complete with instantly quotable lyrics (a lot of people were walking around declaring “First thing’s first, I’m the realest” in 2014) and a Clueless-inspired music video. MAGIC!’s “Rude” also usurped the weekly Song of the Summer crown that year with a late push, but I-G-G-Y emerged victorious for the whole season.

16. Katy Perry, «I Kissed a Girl»
Year: 2008
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Rihanna, “Take a Bow”; Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, “Lollipop”

Katy Perry scored one of the most successful debut singles of all time when “I Kissed a Girl” spent seven weeks atop the Hot 100 and set up a dominant pop run. Questionable lyrics aside — Perry has recently said that she would have edited out some of the song’s more stereotypical riffs on bisexuality — the singer would personally one-up this Song of the Summer two years later with “California Gurls.”

15. Usher, «U Remind Me»
Year: 2001
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Eve feat. Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”; Lifehouse, “Hanging By a Moment”

Although Usher would soar even higher a few years after releasing this charming ode to turning down a potential relationship because of a passing physical resemblance to an ex, the hook to “U Remind Me” remains one of his most indelible, and a perfect addition to any barbecue playlist.

14. Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla, «One Dance»
Year: 2016
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop The Feeling!”; The Chainsmokers feat. Daya, “Don’t Let Me Down”

Remember in 2016, when Drake still hadn’t earned a Hot 100 chart-topper as a lead artist? After getting oh so close to the summit with “Hotline Bling” in late 2015, Drake owned summer ’16 with the dancehall-influenced “One Dance,” featuring Afrobeats star Wizkid and British artist Kyla. Although a 10-week leader, “One Dance” was followed by even bigger hits from Drake, and four more No. 1s (so far) as a lead.

13. LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock, «Party Rock Anthem»
Year: 2011
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer, “Give Me Everything”; Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

“Everyday I’m shufflin’,” goes the beat-drop catchphrase in LMFAO’s 2011 smash “Party Rock Anthem” — and for a few months there, shufflin’ was indeed an everyday occurrence in the United States, thanks to the turbo-pop duo of Redfoo and Sky Blu. After soundtracking clubs with “I’m in Miami B–ch” and “Shots,” the son and grandson of Motown legend Berry Gordy went mainstream and unleashed a ubiquitous party song from a bygone era.

12. Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland, «Promiscuous»
Year: 2006
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie”; Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

While Timbaland’s 2006 may be most clearly defined by his work on Justin Timberlake’s blockbuster sophomore album, before there was FutureSex/LoveSounds there was Loose, Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado’s pivot away from folk-pop and toward the club. “Promiscuous,” her back-and-forth flirtation with the producer, became her biggest hit and a six-week Hot 100 leader to help define that summer.

11. Drake, «In My Feelings»
Year: 2018
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny, “I Like It”; Maroon 5 feat. Cardi B, “Girls Like You”

“In My Feelings” was not unveiled to the world as another surefire hit from Drake; after ruling the Hot 100 earlier in 2018 with “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What,” his album Scorpion was released in late June, “In My Feelings” proceeded to blow up organically, and became an official single days later. Credit a dance challenge tied to the song, popularized by the comedian Shiggy, for helping “In My Feelings” rule the second half of summer 2018.

10. Robin Thicke feat. T.I. + Pharrell, «Blurred Lines»
Year: 2013
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”; Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”

In retrospect, the topless-model music video and come-hither lyrics to Robin Thicke’s massive 2013 single weren’t called out forcefully enough for being problematic — but also in retrospect, “Blurred Lines” was absolutely everywhere in the summer of 2013, logging 12 weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Also everywhere that summer was Pharrell Williams, who assisted on “Blurred Lines” and took lead vocals on Daft Punk’s concurrent smash “Get Lucky.”

9. Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, «California Gurls»
Year: 2010
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Eminem feat. Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie”; B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams, “Airplanes”

“Undeniable” is how Katy Perry describes the titular women in her 2010 summer anthem, and indeed, “California Gurls” proved to be just that, a sumptuous highlight of the electro-pop era with flirtatious lyrics and a Snoop Dogg guest verse beamed in from the West Coast. Although Perry’s Teenage Dream album spawned a whopping five No. 1s, the first one to reach the top proved to be summer-defining.

8. Mariah Carey, «We Belong Together»
Year: 2005
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”; The Pussycat Dolls feat. Busta Rhymes, “Don’t Cha”

Fifteen years after earning the Song of the Summer crown with 1990’s “Vision of Love,” Mariah Carey orchestrated an incredible comeback in 2005 and pulled off one of the biggest hits of her career. “We Belong Together” has a lower BPM than the typical summer song, but Carey’s charisma and the song’s undying hook helped lead to 14 weeks at the top of the Hot 100 and a smooth-as-silk song of the summer.

7. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber, «Despacito»
Year: 2017
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”; DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper & Lil Wayne, “I’m the One”

Sure, having Justin Bieber hop on a remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” helped catapult the rising hit to the top of the Hot 100, where it remained for a then-record-tying 16 weeks at No. 1 — but that’s also selling short the importance of one of the biggest hits of the decade being sung primarily in Spanish, and the only Song of the Summer of the past 20 years to have that quality. “Despacito” blew away the competition in 2017 and will pack dance floors for years to come.

6. The Black Eyed Peas, «I Gotta Feeling»
Year: 2009
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”; Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West & Ne-Yo, “Knock You Down”

The only artist over the past 20 years to score the No. 1 and No. 2 track on the Summer Songs chart for a given year, the Black Eyed Peas spent 26 weeks (!) in a row at the top of the Hot 100 in 2009 — first with “Boom Boom Pow,” then with “I Gotta Feeling,” which would go on to become a wedding-reception staple over the next decade. As celebratory summer jams go, it’s hard to beat a robo-voiced declaring, “Tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.”

5. Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, «Old Town Road»
Year: 2019
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”; Khalid, “Talk”

A country-trap concoction that started bubbling up on TikTok months before the summer of 2019, “Old Town Road” galloped into the record books when Lil Nas X tapped Billy Ray Cyrus for a remix, proceeding to shatter the all-time Hot 100 record with 19 weeks at No. 1, as well as eclipse every other major song released in the dog days of that year. “Old Town Road” works during any season, but there’s simply more giddy-up when it’s blaring in the summertime.

4. Rihanna feat. Jay-Z, «Umbrella»
Year: 2007
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”; Shop Boyz, “Party Like a Rockstar”

Amazingly, Rihanna has only scored one Song of the Summer crown in a decade and a half of chart domination — but she certainly made that one count. “Umbrella” simmered throughout the summer of 2007, preceding her Good Girl Gone Badalbum, which helped solidify the “SOS” hitmaker as an A-lister. Years later, it’s difficult to imagine any summer playlist not being made sturdier with the addition of “Umbrella.”

3. Carly Rae Jepsen, «Call Me Maybe»
Year: 2012
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa, “Payphone”; Gotye feat. Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used to Know”

In the first half of 2012, artists like Fun. and Gotye escaped stateside anonymity to score out-of-nowhere No. 1 hits; Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen outpaced all of them, spending nine weeks atop the Hot 100 thanks to the ultimate summer earworm. Jepsen has since become a beloved indie-pop voice, but “Call Me Maybe” remains an indelible snapshot of the summer of 2012, where every celebrity was singing along to the chorus as part of a pre-TikTok meme — simpler times indeed.

2. Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z, «Crazy in Love»
Year: 2003
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Lil Kim feat. 50 Cent, “Magic Stick”; Chingy, “Right Thurr”

“Crazy in Love” radiates heat — from the interplay between real-life couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, from the face-melting Chi-Lites sample, from the presence of Beyonce, the Destiny’s Child standout who smashed her debut solo single out of several parks. “Crazy In Love” is one of the most sweltering summer songs ever assembled, and even though Queen Bey would actually spend a longer time atop the Hot 100 later that year with the Sean Paul collaboration “Baby Boy,” her first cut will forever define summer euphoria.

1. Nelly, «Hot in Herre»
Year: 2002
Song of the Summer Runner-Ups: Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”; Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland, “Dilemma”

In 2002, Nelly was tasked with following up his stellar 2000 debut Country Grammar, featuring the hit title track, “E.I.” and “Ride Wit Me”; what the St. Louis rapper decided to do was return with the Song of the Summer to rule all Songs of the Summer. “Hot In Herre” is sweaty by design, an ode to unbearable hotness marked by literal grunts (“Give a little bit of ah, ah / With a little bit of ah, ah!”) when words just won’t do. Although “Hot in Herre” only spent 7 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, it has reigned much longer as this century’s defining Song of the Summer thus far.